Text of the performance
People say he is too small for his age. Too delicate, too weak. And there is something else, barely noticeable: a slight curvature of the spine, a scarcely visible arching that makes them afraid. It becomes more and more pronounced, and there's no way of stopping it. There's not much we can do, the doctors say, prescribing massages and gymnastic exercises and an annual period of rehabilitation at the seaside. That's good for the boy's bronchial tubes, they say; it will make it easier for him to breathe. When he was younger still, his mother had once sewn him a sailor's outfit. At the cinema they watched the popular movies, movies transporting them to far-away places, down South, to the sun and the sea. The new films started on Fridays and Tuesdays. The sea was always as blue as the sky.
In 1937, at the time of his first appearance at New York's Carnegie Hall, Joseph Schmidt was 33 years old. He had been a fugitive from the Nazis for four years, having left Germany at the end of 1933 and sought refuge in Vienna. The singer, made popular in wireless broadcasts, performed on German radio for the last time on February 20, 1933, three weeks after Hitler had taken power. On May 10, 1933, one day after the dazzling premiere of his film "Ein Lied geht um die Welt" (My Song Goes 'Round the World) in Berlin's "Ufa-Palast," there was more going up in smoke in the German capital than banned books. The Nazis' main propaganda mouthpiece, the "Völkische Beobachter" paper, wrote of the premiere: "What we want (and what we will get!) could scarcely be more different. Throughout the film there is talk about the singer being too short, too ugly. Yet he is sooo gifted and so noble at heart, so moving, that no angel could be more pure... But what isn't said - and is therefore all the more obvious - is that he is a Jew." And: "It's an embarrassment for a film company producing in Germany to presume to send a song like the one sung here by Joseph Schmidt around the world ... The song sounding in Germany today has a different beat, a stronger march rhythm, a more fervent melody and is sung by more honest hearts than those we heard in the film. The rhythm of millions of Germans on the march has nothing to do with the pack of lies this alien would have us believe!!!... If this song does find its way around the world, it will be drowned out by the song of the national revolution. With millions of brownshirts marching in step and singing "Clear the Streets for the Brown Battalions" (Die Strasse frei den braunen Bataillonen), everyone will know who's calling the tune in Germany!” Four years later, long after people had stopped playing his records in Germany, Schmidt's film "My Song Goes 'Round the World" was also banned.
In March 1938, just a few days before Hitler's Germany annexed Austria, Joseph Schmidt fled to Belgium where he was able to fulfil one of his dreams. For the first time in his life, he appeared in a Brussels opera production of "La Bohème" in 1939. One year later, following the German occupation of Belgium, he was back on the run again. His initial destination: France. In November 1940 there is confirmation of his arrival in Lyon. The German troops continue their advance. Joseph Schmidt goes to Southern France. The net tightens around him. His attempt to emigrate to South America fails. The ship he was due to take remains moored in Marseilles. Joseph Schmidt's requests for permission to enter neutral - Switzerland are rejected. That boat was already full, too. On October 8, 1942 he finally manages to enter the country illegally. Having no money, the fugitive is dispatched to an internment camp near Zurich. A month later he dies. The entry in the official register of deaths reads: "Monday 16 November 1942, Schmidt, Joseph - 38 years, 8 months, 12 days old, no nationality." The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" notes in its “In Brief” column: 'Joseph Schmidt, the tenor who made his name in the film 'Ein Lied geht um die Welt' and gave concerts in the Radio Music Hall some years back, died in a Swiss internment camp on Monday." His gravestone bears the inscription: "A star has fallen."
Berlin, February 13, 1943
"For the Attention of the Chief Financial Officers of Berlin and Brandenburg:
Alfred Israel Bieber, born on October 6, 1906, and his wife Ruth Sara Bieber, née Deligdisch, born' on December 27, 1912, both last residing at Auguststrasse 17 c/o Auerbach, Berlin N4, migrated to the protected territories with Eastern Transport 23 under shipment numbers 24,562 and 24,563 on October 29, 1942. The following items from the migrants' possession are currently being stored in our furniture warehouse: 2 wardrobes with mirrors, damaged / 2 bedside tables / 1 washing stand (1 drawer missing) / 2 beds with mattress covers / 1 small suitcase / feather-beds / 1 piano.
The piano has been valued at approximately 150 Reichsmark. The remaining furniture may be regarded as completely worthless, as it has been largely demolished."
Some of the deported Polish Jews who had worked as musicians arrived at the extermination camps with their instruments.
"Germans love music," they thought, and if the Germans should hear that they could perform for them, perhaps they would be spared.
Fifty years after the end of the war, the artificial leg belonging to the Jewish woman murdered in Ausschwitz still seemed to be in perfect condition. It was impossible to. establish the name of the woman it had belonged to.
A young man with cropped hair strolls through the subway train, sprawls across two seats, and crosses his arms. Attached to his jacket is a black polyester patch. The slogan "Deutschland den Deutsclien" (Keep Germany.for the Germans) is legible on the patch, which also shows Germany's borders during the Third Reich and the words "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" (Unity, Liberty and the Supremacy of the Law). A woman says "Now our Germany is great and beautiful once again. We're happy to pay whatever that costs."
Shortly before Christmas 1992, a Greek woman walking through a park in Düsseldorf was attacked by three young men. They used a knife to etch a swastika on the sixteen-year-old's forehead before running off. The swastika was still visible on Christmas Day.
During the same month, a pub owner in Wuppertal egged-on two skinheads with the words "Jews must be burned." They pored schnapps over a 53-year-old man and set him on fire.
The Jewish poet Else Lasker-Schüler, who was exiled by the Nazis, wrote in one of her early poems: "I want to go to a place without borders, / Return to myself. / The autumnal crocus of my soul / Is blooming now, / It may be too late for going back. / 0, 1 an, dying here with you! / You who smother me with your weight. / Could I but could draw threads around me / Ending the entanglement! Causing confusion! / Entangling you - / To escape / Mewards."
The stranger told of the fairy-tale prince he had once been. Every evening his sisters had read him one of the old fairy tales, and when he started school he was able to tell lots of fairy tales. The teachers always thought of him as the fairy-tale prince, Prince Charming in person. But things changed when he went to a different school. "There nobody was interested in the fairy tales anymore. "
As a way of toughening himself up, he always took cold showers, even in the winter, the 28-year-old reported. And did weight training mornings and evenings to increase his awareness of his body. The pyjamas he wore to bed were made of light-blue towelling.
A tourist rushed to the Champs Elysées just before closing time one evening and bought an old record, "Parlez-moi d’amour." There was no record player in his hotel room.
He is travelling, seeking points of contact, a friend from Paris writes. That morning he had felt the hairdresser's hand on his car, on his cheek and on the back of his neck. He experienced it as an embrace. Later he rode his bike through the rain and every drop felt like a brief embrace. At home he found a card in his letter box. "Another embrace." This is how he collects embraces, the friend explains, and that the days were getting longer again.
The 19-year-old had always dreamed of somebody coming and holding him in his arms one day. But he felt nothing when a magazine salesman came and embraced him in front of the coal heater in his living room. He registered only the panting and the agitated - movements of the man in the suit who didn't want to be kissed on the mouth.
He always needs it quite warm in his room, the 25-year-old says. It gives him the feeling of security and seclusion he needs. "After all, I'm all alone."
Living on his own, the man could see only his new neighbours' television set when he looked into the young couple's living room from his window. On Saturdays they watched sex films from the sixties and seventies. The bare skin and agitated movements of the couples were visible through the double-glazed windows. The man and woman remained out of sight.
When the son kissed the photo of Rock Hudson on the calendar hanging on the wall, the mother came into the room and was beside herself. The kiss didn't mean anything, he tried to explain. He had only been kissing paper. On the back of the photo it said that Rock Hudson could be reached through: "Universal International Films, Universal City, California/USA."
Before they reached thirty, at a time when nobody had heard of Aids, the younger of the two men said, he could still imagine them being friends in fifty years. As old men they would think back - right back to their first evening together with the scratched records and the hits by Sandie Shaw and Dusty Springfield, the Supremes and Lulu. When he died at the age of 35, the Aids statistics increased.
He'd wanted to be a magician or a jellybaby salesman, the writer told the journalists who had described him as a promising young talent. The 37- ear old's obituaries spoke of the magic of his plays and the jellibabies he had sold in a cinema. The cause of death was not mentioned.
The postcard a friend with AIDS sent from Morocco shows a town in the wake of the earthquake. "Why do I choose cards like this?" he asks a year before his death, leaving the question unanswered. "I send you my best wishes and embrace you with all my heart."
In the past people had often been less cautious, says the woman at the newspaper stand. You used to put the change in people's hands. Nowadays, with AIDS around, she'd stopped doing that. She points to the glass-covered counter. I just put the money down here, so I don't come into contact with anyone. I’m more careful now.
The man's skin seemed paper-thin. You could feel his bones through his T-shirt when you embraced him. As the stranger touches the back of the man's neck and his bare arms, he is reminded of a baby's skin. When he dies of AIDS, the 27-year-old smooths baby oil onto one of his arms and hugs a teddy that had grown soft in his embraces.
He knows what should be done with people who have AIDS, a kiosk owner from Düsseldorf says: "Put'em to sleep." A smile flickers across his face. "One quick bash on the head and they're gone once and for all. And nobody gets infected any more."
He no longer has the courage to warm himself up against the young men he meets, the author with AIDS writes, and that he isn't remotely proud of the fact. Once the 35-year-old takes his videocamera and films his bed with the two teddybears lying there and embracing as they used to.
In the play "Wohl ist sie schön, die Welt" ("Beautiful indeed is the World") Marcelo sang one song in his mother tongue. When the Argentinean singer died in Germany in 1993 he was 27 years old.
India, Goa, March 11, 1986
"My dear, if you believe in reincarnation, what might you have been in your previous life? There are no secrets here in Goa, there is no great unseen force; yet it seems that every word spoken here materialises almost instantly. You say coconut and a coconut falls from a tree. You think of a horse and someone comes riding by. My dear, I am looking forward to seeing you again and hearing your voice. All the best, ciao."
Saligao Church, Goa, 1986
"My dear, time flies by, then it pauses again and allows me to relax: no bars, no alcohol, and I am not part of the "social" life either - here in the little village of Nagoa. Are you already enjoying spring, going for walks along the Rhine? I'm already looking forward to Europe and to seeing my friends! Ciao"
Bangkok, Thailand, December 12, 1986
"My dear, you would feel at home here too: gentle, proud, polite people with respect in their eyes. And we could go diving together, looking for coral reefs, dolphins and monsters from the deep. Why not? With the warmest wishes for relaxing holidays from..."
"My dear, here I am in some African village. It's like being in the Black forest or in Bullerbu. My hands are clearing up beautifully, all the cracks are disappearing. I hope that my little tortoise isn't taken into custody during the bus trip to D. Will I get to see you again? In Berlin?"
Egypt, Luxor, March 4, 1987
"My dear, I have your book with me. However, first I will partake of the King of Thebes' golden robe and the veil of the Venus of Siam. And perhaps I shall return to the River Wupper. Cia, ciao. Yours ..... P.S. Egypt is like Wuppertal: long and narrow."
Thailand, Kra-bi, February 3, 1988
"My dear, this year I am itching to move on - just like when I was oh-so-young: Singapore, Benang, Burma, Ahmedabad; my head full of plans! At the moment I’m living here in Southern Thailand where the countryside would appeal to the Southern Chinese. Rocks, grown over with green, jut upwards out of the turquoise sea like pen-and-ink drawings or paintings on a vase. See you soon. Yours…"
Ancona,Italy, August 19, 1988
"My dear, have you ever been to Rimini? Fellini comes from here. And 'Amarcord' with the Grand Hotel where the Gradisca was supposed to seduce His Excellency! - I prefer not to mention another kind of reality though - the appalling excesses of mass tourism. So shhh! - lonesco arrived in Rimini today and gave an interview. - and I've oot Italian friends living here, thank heavens. All my love and best regards"
"My dear friend, it took me a long time to calm down this year, to regain my equilibrium. Maybe I was taking that sense of balance too much for granted. Asia exudes-it so generously, together with ecstatic religious fervour, among other things. Now I can read Japanese haiku far more freely and rewardingly. Thank you, best wishes and be seeing you"
Morocco, Agadir, December 14, 1989
"My dear, I feel much better now than I did a few days ago in Berlin. Winter doesn't agree with me; here it's warm, and depression and melancholy seem to evaporate. Raimund, it doesn't matter when you receive this card: I send you my best wishes and embrace you with all my heart. Yours…"
Thailand, February 7, 1990
"My dear, yesterday 1 just happened to pick up your/our Grand-Prix tape and fantasised: listening in the dark, at night in the bungalow...'Once in a Lullaby'. - Looking forward to seeing you again, Yours …"
When - ten months later in December 1990 - he died as a result of AIDS, he was 35 years old. - In August 1937, five years before his death, 33-year-old Joseph Schmidt made his last record, “Ik hou van Holland." When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, this song was banned as well.
This is the text of the solo-performance ‘Meinwärts’ (English version), created by the German theatre maker Raimund Hoghe in april 1994. The performance reflects upon the 1940’s and is the first part of a trilogy, which includes further ‘Chambre séparée’ (1997) and ‘Another Dream’ (2000).
Text of the performance, April 1994